Monday, February 06, 2006

Memoirs of a Geisha




















This is the reality....pre-pubescent girls sold into slavery and child abuse at the age of anywhere from three to six. They are sent to special "schools" (think Ichiguro's "Never Let Me Go") not to learn to read and write, but to learn to create a fantasy of perfect feminity, as imagined by the men of their culutre: they learn to dress as little silk brocade-clad dolls, to wear their hair in waxy updos that do not allow them to lie down when they sleep and to wear makeup that obliterates their own unique faces, substituting them for white masks that accentuate perfect red rosebud lips.

They learn to play guitar-like instruments and Japanese drums as well as to sing and dance as a way of beguiling men, for it is only men who ever see their performances.

At school and through their mentors, they also learn to speak seductively and to tweak hints of sexuality out of repression during conversation, with sly references to their hot morning baths, their male dressers and tailors who see them without their clothing. They learn to manipulate men, but more often end up on the receiving end of the manipulation. They seldom marry, and their best hope is to become the lifelong mistress of a wealthy man who has his own wife and kids, and perhaps to bear said man's illegitimate children.

They are not prostitutes, and yet their virginity is sold to the highest bidder somewhere between the ages of 13 and 15, and their livelihood is derived from being paid to appear at parties attended solely by men, and to entertain those men with titillating conversation and the orchestration of a variety of means for the men to get shit-faced drunk on sake and beer, including drinking games that often involved the telling of ribald stories. Although they may become "kept" women if they are lucky, they are not prostitutes. Fair enough.

And that is what I gleaned from reading Memoirs of a Geisha, a novel by Arthur Golden.

And then there is the movie, Memoirs of Geisha, based on the novel, but well, so much more romanticized:


The most notable departure from the book is that the movie's pivotal "mizuage" - the selling of the Sayuri's (the Geisha's) virginity to the highest bidder - did not happen in her early teens, as it did in the book, as it would in real life. Rather,in the movie version, it happened sometime in her twenties. I can only surmise that the producers determined that Western audiences would be horrified at the reality of the situation, which amounts to something like statutory rape, with the emphasis on rape.

But then, who knows what the producers were thinking? The movie is a glorious fairy tale. The book is as well, except that unlike the movie, the book exists on two levels. One is the narration of events, which in every way add up to a beautiful fairy tale of love and redemption. The other is the verbal painting of the cultural backdrop: pre WWII Kyoto tea-house culture, with its males-only clubbing, the excessive drinking, the treatment of women as chattel, the almost total disregard for marital vows. Certainly, the Geishas were charming, made beautiful music, danced expressively and created impressive tea ceremonies. But basically, the Geishas of the book were not much more than paid party girls. Kind of like Paris Hilton. But without all the choices.

YC

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About Me

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Northern Westchester, New York, United States
I live by a duck pond. I used to live by the East River. I don't work. I used to work a lot. Now, not so much. I used to teach a lot of yoga. Now not so much. I still practice a lot of yoga though. A LOT. I love my kids, being outdoors, taking photos, reading magazines, writing and stirring the pot. Enjoy responsibly.

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